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Tourism in, ag training out for Longreach legacy

Aug 17, 2023

The “pig-headed” Palaszczuk Labor Government has unfortunately put publicity ahead of the public interest, with Minister Mark Furner’s recent claim the carve-up and cart-off of the former Longreach Pastoral College a “good news story”; a kick in the guts to all regional Queensland.

That’s according to Katter’s Australian Party Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter, who has long-lamented the loss of the long-running facility – as well as its sister site at Emerald.

Mr Katter the sale of the facility to three buyers – including those who intend to use the site for tourism – for a total $12.4 million was a “cold, hard asset sale” and one that was not in the best interests of the State.

He described the Government’s refusal to support a bid by a consortium of pastoral companies – who offered $1.82 million above the tenders that got awarded to re-establish the ag college – as unconscionable.

The tender provided by the consortium, led by the AAM Investment Group, was competitive and widely-supported, boasting:

  • A highly-competitive price that exceeded independent market valuations for the site and the cumulative value of the winning tender offers;
  • A thorough community consultation process that netted widespread local backing, including more than 3300 individuals and organisations who signed a letter of support for the proposal;
  • A commitment to explore all options to ensure the college facilities and associated assets continued to operate as a trusted source of knowledge sharing and education services to the northern Australian farm sector.

AAM managing director and CEO, Garry Edwards, said the nationwide support that had been garnered since the handing down of the tender decision had been extremely encouraging.

He said the support was a timely reminder of the clear and critical need for regional and rural Australia to act as contemporaries in proactively pushing towards outcomes that benefit rural vocational training and education.

“In that vein there is a responsibility for the private sector of regional and rural Australia to look to proactively engage with government, at both a state and federal level, to drive toward educational and community-based outcomes that meet the needs of the bush,” Mr Edwards said.

“We remain focussed on finding avenues to drive positive change in both the communities we operate within and more broadly regional Australia as part of the legacy we intent to leave for future generations.”

Mr Katter said he was disgusted that, in the midst of a chronic ag worker shortage, the AAM-led tender was disregarded on a technicality arising from the consortium nature of the bid.

“I fear the Government, through whatever means, torpedoed the offer to save face, as allowing the private sector to restore the site to its former glory would have qualified the strongly-held community belief that the colleges should have never been shut down in the first place,” he said.

“In this way, they have used process to save them negative publicity – but they’re not fooling anyone.”

“Queensland’s agricultural industry remains markedly poorer as a result of the short-sighted asset sales, and the more recent refusal by the Government to let the private sector to step in and step up where they have failed.”

Mr Katter said the loss of the legacy sites at Longreach and Emerald had contributed to significant ag industry workforce shortages, with an average of just 50 kids a year completing a Certificate III in Agriculture per year across Queensland since.[1]

An average of just one student per year has completed the course in North Queensland.

During the recent Budget Estimates Mr Katter asked the Queensland Agricultural Minister to explain the lack of Government support for an industry-led attempt to buy and re-open the Longreach facility.

“Can the Minister explain why in 2018 he accepted a public audit report claiming that there was no demand for services provided by the Longreach and Emerald pastoral colleges and then in 2023 rejected an opportunity for an industry-led proposal in (restoring) the (Longreach) asset?” he asked Minister Mark Furner.

The Minister responded saying that, despite a consortium of 10 large pastoral companies that intended to re-open the training facility missing out, the sale was a “good news story”.

“The community benefit proposed to be delivered by the successful tenders include … tourism operations, growing tourism products and experiences resulting in greater visitation and economic return for the broader region and communities,” he said.

[1] https://documents.parliament.qld.gov.au/tableoffice/questionsanswers/2023/877-2023.pdf

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